Chapter 10: The Rise & Fall of Graham Seager

Eric Pickles' Education supremo, Graham Seager, was the first political casualty of the new radical front bench team. For Pickles the loss was critical, even though Seager was not an initial member of his Core group. Seager had proved extremely loyal, but his performance as head of one of the council's biggest spending departments had been poor.

Seager had always sat uneasily on the Tory front bench. With Pickles and Wightman on his left, Eaton and Farley on his right, Seager cut a somewhat lonely figure in the middle. He had none of the speaking flair of the other four. He shared none of their supreme confidence or arrogance.

But his fall was an acid reminder to the others; politics can be a dangerous game.

Graham Stanley Seager was born in 1959 in Fairweather Green, Bradford. He was the eldest son of master plumber and builder Stanley Seager and his wife Doreen.

Graham studied at Rhodesway school where he later became a school governor. He made fairly unspectacular progress and went on to work for the Inland Revenue.

In 1980 Graham, who was still living with his parents and 2 brothers in Allerton, stood as a Tory candidate for Clayton alongside Ronnie Farley. He was elected and became one of the youngest ever councillors at 21 years of age.

The following year, on October 10th, he married 25 year old fellow tax officer Susan Patricia Mulligan. For Seager this seemed a step up the ladder. Susan's father Norman was a company director and the couple were married in the leafy suburbs of Menston, where the Mulligans lived.

On the council Seager joined forces with the other young rising stars including Peter Gilmour, Ronnie Farley and Eric Pickles. Seager went on to sit as chairman of the Social Services committee.

But Seager became one of the shock Tory casualties at the 1986 elections and lost his seat when Labour won by a landslide.

His wife Susan left him and a depressed Graham Seager gave up his home. He moved back in with his mum, who by now had also separated from husband Stanley and was living with her future second husband in Oakworth, close to Pickles' family home.

In December 1986 Graham filed for divorce on the grounds of his wife's "unreasonable behaviour". The divorce was finalised the following month.

But Seager was a popular figure in traditional Tory circles and was soon making his political comeback. By now a tax inspector based in Bradford, he was also chairman of the Yorkshire area Conservative Political Centre - a highly influential group responsible for the political education of the region's Tories.

He was selected to stand for a safe Bingley seat and was elected back onto the council in May 1987 after only a year's absence.

He joined a Tory opposition under the leadership of Eric Pickles and was soon immersed in the new radical plans. His political career seemed to be picking up. He was by now chairman of the Bradford Family Service Unit and a member of the District Health Authority, and felt confident enough to set up home again on his own in Bingley.

However, things soon began to go wrong again for the hapless Graham Seager.

After a heavy session at the 1987 office Christmas party Seager set off home in his car, only to be stopped minutes later by the police. He was breathalized and found to be 3 times over the limit.

He appeared in court the following month and pleaded guilty to drunken driving. In mitigation Seager, then chairman of the Bingley Road Safety committee, claimed that there was nothing wrong with his driving and he had been the victim of an illicit random stop following police surveillance of the area. The magistrates were unimpressed and fined Seager £312. He was banned from driving for a year.

Seager tried to put this embarrassment behind him. As the Tory group gained power in September 1988 Seager was switched to chairman of the Education committee by Pickles, deposing fellow Bingley old-timer Bill Nunn who was returned to the back benches.

For Seager this was a tough posting. Education was set to take the brunt of the first phase of Pickles' cuts package, with £3.8 million slashed from its budget. To make matters worse, the Tory group didn't have an automatic majority on the Education committee, as a number of co-opted teacher representatives were likely to side with the opposition in opposing such draconian cuts.

None the less, the cuts were pushed through at the full council meeting in October 1988. They included a sharp rise in school meals along with cuts in the provision of teachers, teaching materials and school maintenance. Plans were also underway to promote Bradford's controversial City Technology College, funded by the government and high street store Dixons.

The school meals price rise proved disastrous with half of paying pupils dropping out. Soon dinner ladies and other staff lost their jobs as a direct result.

Petitions and resolutions condemning the policies began to flood in. A package of such petitions from an unprecedented 54 school governing bodies greeted Seager at an Education committee meeting in January 1989. Seager refused to discuss them and to his dismay the committee passed a motion of "no confidence" in him.

Seager was bailed out by the rest of the Tory group when the motion was overturned at the next council meeting. Immediately the Tory group drew up plans to restructure the Education committee - giving themselves a clear majority, so that such embarrassments could not re-occur.

However, it was just the start of Seager's troubles. A scandal was looming over plans to privatise the provision of school meals and Seager's private life was once more causing him difficulties.

Following a whirlwind romance Seager had proposed marriage to Christine Mockaitis, yet another older tax officer living in Bingley. Seager wanted the marriage kept a closely guarded secret.

The wedding took place on November 11th 1988 at Bradford Register office. But someone had tipped off the local paper and the wedding was given prominent media coverage.

Graham Seager and his bride, now installed at Seager's new yuppie style flat in the former Bingley College, disappeared for a long honeymoon. He returned just in time for the 1988 Christmas office party binge. Seager's drunken antics soon had colleagues gossiping again.

Sordid stories were quickly flooding through City Hall. Local T & A Education reporter Mark Whitehead picked up the rumours and began to investigate. He called Seager who fiercely denounced the stories as complete fabrications. After the call Seager panicked and rushed to seek the help of Eric Pickles.

The Tory leader, already despairing at City Hall sex scandals, phoned Whitehead and told the astonished reporter to "lay off". Just to make sure, Pickles also called on his friend Malcolm Hoddy, the T & A's news editor. Hoddy obligingly ticked off Whitehead and told him to "drop it".

But Seager's troubles were not over. At the same time as held been planning his second marriage, he had also made what he no doubt hoped would be a useful career move and secretly joined the Freemasons.

With his left breast bared and his right trouser leg rolled up, blindfolded and carrying a noose around his neck, Seager was initiated into the Eccleshill masonic lodge (No 1034) at a regular monthly meeting in the masonic temple on Manningham Lane.

Seager was well aware that Freemasonry and Bradford council was an explosive mix.

In the early 1970's Bradford council had been exposed at the centre of the biggest local government corruption scandal ever uncovered in Britain. A number of council officers and the former leader of the council were convicted of corruption for their part in the Poulson Affair. Architect John Poulson's corrupt empire had been built largely on his masonic contacts. In 1985 therefore, the Labour group were shocked when it was revealed that a number of senior Tory councillors and most of the top officers were members of this sinister secret society. The following year, the new Labour controlled council added clauses to council rules that made it obligatory for councillors and officers to declare their membership of Freemasonry on a special register of masonic interests. By 1988 all the previously "exposed" City Hall freemasons had left Bradford council and the register was empty.

Graham Seager decided that the best course was to ignore council rules and keep his new masonic membership strictly secret. But events conspired against the luckless man.

At a council meeting in February 1989, allegations of Seager's masonic membership were publicly aired. The intrepid T & A reporter Mark Whitehead challenged Seager but the ashen faced councillor refused to comment. Whitehead compiled a short piece on the allegation for his paper, but once more news editor Malcolm Hoddy came to Seager's assistance and "spiked" the story.

This time, however, the story would not go away. The following month Martin Short's meticulously researched best seller "Inside the Brotherhood" was published. The result of 4 years work, it was a devastating critique of the corrupting influence of the secret society. The book led to the formation of a Parliamentary campaign seeking legislation to force public servants to declare any masonic membership. Amongst the supporters of the campaign was Bradford West Labour MP Max Madden.

Madden was furious when he learned of Seager's alleged masonic membership - particularly as Seager was still ignoring council rules and refusing to declare it. Madden wrote twice to Seager, asking him if the allegations were true. Seager didn't reply. Madden then wrote and complained to the council's Chief solicitor, who was responsible for upholding council rules.

At the same time the Liberal leader on the council, John Wells, gave notice to Seager that he would publicly challenge him on the matter at the council's Annual General meeting due to be held at the end of May.

It was all too much for poor Graham Seager. Less than a week before the Annual General meeting, Eric pickles made the surprise announcement that Graham Seager had been dropped from his front bench job as Education chief. He was replaced by one of Pickles' trusted Core group - Mike Gaunt. Whilst relieved of many of the pressures on him, the Liberal's challenge against Seager's secret masonic membership remained a possibility. So on Monday May 22nd, the day before the Annual General meeting, Graham Seager sat down in City Hall and typed a letter on council notepaper to the city solicitor Allen Sykes. It read;

"Dear Allen,

"Under the rules concerning Declarations of Interest, I hereby give written notice that I am a member of Freemasonry.

"If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me at the above address.

"Yours sincerely, G. S. Seager."

He took the letter and handed it to Sykes, who stamped it and quietly slipped it into the Register.

As a final irony, the expected Liberal challenge to Seager at the council's Annual General meeting never materialised.

Rumours soon spread that Seager was ready to quit the council and take a job with an accountancy firm in Barnsley. Whether the rumours were true or not, it was clear that Pickles could not afford a by-election, even in a normally safe seat like Bingley. In fact Bingley was looking distinctly unsafe at that time.

The Tory group faced mounting difficulties over their proposed sell-off of the council-owned Bingley St. Ives estate. The estate was a popular local amenity for golfers, fishers and ramblers, and residents were soon united in a well organised opposition to the plan. The strength of feeling stunned local Tory councillors.

Such was the concern, that on the day of the council meeting that was set to rubber-stamp the sell-off, Eric Pickles announced that the planned sale had been abandoned. "I cannot pretend that this is anything other than a U turn" Pickles said.

It was the first in a number of public climb downs that the Tory leadership were forced to make.

The Bradford Revolution seemed to be running out of steam.